Ante Lundberg Washington, DC Commission on Mental Health Services
By the term environment mental health professionals usually mean an individual's family and immediate social circle. Psychotherapy tends to focus on intrapsychic events and on interaction with the closest family and social group. In recent decades, the focus has shifted to biological determinants of individual experience and behavior, to the genetics of serious mental illness, and to pharmacotherapy for psychiatric disorders.
Genetics and family environment combine to mold a person ( Eisenberg, 1995), but growing evidence shows that the nonsocial environment -- biological and physical -- is important as well, not only for health and psychological functioning, but also for psychiatric morbidity ( Lundberg, 1996; Schottenfeld, 1992). Toxins and traumatic experiences such as natural disasters cause illness and vulnerability. Epidemiological data show a sharp rise in depression among adolescents and young adults ( Kessler et al., 1994). On the other hand, interacting with the living world, even contemplating pictures of nature, can have therapeutic effects ( Katcher & Wilkins, 1993; Ulrich, 1993).
Anecdotal evidence indicates that clinicians see more and more patients who have been exposed to environmental poisons or environmental stress, who worry about environmental threats, or who are preoccupied with the fate of the environment. Often such concerns are irrational and can be seen as representing cognitive dysfunction or neurotic defense such as displacement or rationalization. But in some cases the fears are well founded.